The Miami Dolphins, a once proud franchise that won a couple of Super Bowls in the 1970s, but haven’t been back to one since 1984, opened their 2019 campaign with a not-so surprising “thud,” dropping a 59-10 decision to the Indianapolis Colts.
About the only thing I can say about that loss is that if you are a diehard Miami Dolphins fan, you might want to get used to similar results, because it’s going to happen a lot this year.
I have worked in college and professional football for a long time. I have seen first-hand how good football men like Bobby Bowden, Perry Moss, Galen Hall, Will McClay, and Jay Gruden have successfully built rosters. But as far as what the long-range plan is for the Dolphins under owner Stephen Ross, General Manager Chris Grier and Head Coach Brian Flores, all I can say is that I am confused.
First there were rumors that Miami was going to tank this season in order to build up draft picks and salary cap space. To their credit, both Grier and Flores have denied that losing on purpose was ever the plan. Frankly the idea of tanking never worked in the NBA (how much closer are the Magic to being a contender after 10 years and two rebuilds?) and it certainly will not work in the NFL.
But if they are not “tanking,” you still have to wonder about the strange personnel moves the Dolphins have made leading up to the 2019 season.
The first thing I want to know is if you are building for the future, how or why in the world would your trade away left tackle Laremy Tunsil?
Left tackle is the most important position on the offensive line for protecting a right-handed quarterback and Tunsil was already considered a top-10 player in the league at his position, and is a guy with possible Hall of Fame potential.
A 2016 first round pick out of Ole Miss who just turned 25, Tunsil could have easily anchored the Miami offensive line for another 10 years – way longer than any rebuild plan the Dolphins had planned would have taken. The argument that he would have become too expensive to keep during the “process” makes no sense.
The fact remains that the contract of every player who becomes a star has to be dealt with eventually; and as Ezekiel Elliot, Melvin Gordon and a host of other players have demonstrated, many are no longer willing to play through a five-year, team-friendly rookie contract if they believe they deserve more.
In the same move where they shipped Tunsil to Houston, they also sent Wide Receiver Kenny Stills to the Texans. Although he was not an elite receiver, Stills was one of the Dolphins most consistent players last year (37-553-6 TD) and is just 27 years old.
One year earlier, the Dolphins traded one of the best wide receivers in the game in Jarvis Landry to the Cleveland Browns. Landry was an elite player who had averaged 100 receptions in his first four years with the Dolphins and doesn’t turn 27 until November. All the Dolphins got back for Landry was a fourth round draft pick.
While Landry’s departure was widely seen as a salary cap and a locker-room issue move by the Dolphins, his departure a year ago as well as the Stills and Tunsil trade give the appearance that the Dolphins are more interested in saving money than building a championship quality team.
But that is only one aspect of Miami’s mystifying moves.
If you are interested in building a long-term solution, why were the Dolphins trying to acquire defensive end Jadeveon Clowney before the season started?
In his final year of his rookie contract, it is highly unlikely the Dolphins would have been able or willing to pay the price to resign Clowney beyond the 2019 season. So why try to acquire a $15.6 million defensive player for one year when, especially when he would have made little difference in the season’s won-lost total?
Then we come to the Ryan Fitzpatrick / Josh Rosen situation. Acquired from the Arizona Cardinals, Rosen – a second year player from UCLA and a former first round draft pick – was viewed as the Dolphins franchise quarterback of the future.
But rather than play him, the Dolphins declared the quarterback situation an open competition of which they say was won by career journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. You obtain your franchise quarterback of the future and you decide to delay his development for another year by benching him in favor of a career backup, who is now playing for his eighth team in 15 years?
Well at least the Dolphins are not just giving away or giving up on their best offensive players. They did it on defense too.
In the last three years, Kiki Alonso recorded 335 tackles, 6 forced fumbles, 11 pass defenses and five interceptions. And what did the Dolphins get in a trade for this 29-year-old former NFL rookie of the year and outstanding linebacker who brought some toughness to the Miami defense? A special teams player and backup linebacker.
Although they deny tanking, it is reasonable to assume the Dolphins believe they can build a great franchise through the draft and already have stockpiled 12 picks in the 2020 draft – including a few first round selections. And perhaps they simply do not believe Josh Rosen is their quarterback of the future. But if that is true, why did they obtain him in the first place and then make that decision before he even played in one regular season game?
Of course, Rosen may appreciate the fact that the Dolphins are giving the starting job to Fitzpatrick – given the offensive line was gutted with the trade of Tunsil and whoever is behind center this year is going to take a pounding.
The Miami Herald reported as much, saying the team has it eyes on obtaining Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailao in the draft. He’s obviously a talented player but he’s also only 6-1 and has had some injury issues as well at Alabama.
Who really knows what the plan is? There is talk about building for the future, but dumping really good, really young players is sort of contradictory to that philosophy.
But perhaps it will work out and maybe in four years the Dolphins will be a perennially good playoff team like the Chiefs, Steelers, Dolphins, and Eagles.
But this was also a franchise that has not won a single playoff game in 20 years and has had 10 different head coaches (including interims) during that time so I’m not holding my breath.
Enjoy the rest of the long season Fish Fans.